After what looked like months of stammering and outright stalling, Columbia Countys School Board has finally approved a framework for studying a change in the way the boards chairman is chosen.
Its hard to believe that something so simple has gotten so remarkably complicated, but it has - mostly because the trustees themselves are themselves uncomfortable with a change that may be thrust on them.
To most observers, this debate seemed to have started last August, with a single question on the Republican Partys primary ballot. The first of a dozen a non-binding straw poll questions, it asked, Are you in favor of having the chairman of the Columbia County Board of Education elected by countywide vote?
But in reality the debate began nearly two years earlier, when Columbia County voters approved a general-election straw poll asking if theyd like to choose the County Commission chairman, instead of continuing to allow commissioners to choose one of their own members as their leader.
After voters overwhelmingly approved that change, local lawmakers set up a task force to study how to go about working the voters will.
No sooner had that study began than the question arose of whether similarly electing the School Board chairman also would be a good idea.
Columbia Countys legislative delegation eventually enacted into law a change in Columbia Countys government, and Republican primary voters last August picked Ron Cross as the first at-large elected chairman (he had no general-election opposition).
In that same election, a much larger margin of GOP voters - 85 percent - said yes to the concept of electing the School Board chairman, too.
No one questions the validity of Cross election, even though he didnt need a single Democratic vote to take office in January. Yet some School Board members still question the 85 percent approval from voters in the GOP straw poll.
At least it finally appears, however, that those Board members have been able to set aside their own squeamishness over the proposal by approving a new task force to study the concept.
Yes, change would upset status quo; and no, thats not necessarily a good thing if it disrupts a well-run system. But during the early debate over an elected County Commission chairman, state lawmakers were fond of saying our government is so well-run that were not afraid to try to improve. Surely the same applies to the School Board.
Now, its up to the 20-member task force to study the entire issue, under the capable leadership of former school superintendent Don Thornhill, and with the blessing of current school board Chairman Wayne Bridges.
I want to feel comfortable that the delegation will seriously consider what the task force comes back with, Bridges says. What I dont want to happen is for this to be an already done deal.
The sentiment is understandable - no one wants to work hard at studying a foregone conclustion. But its important to remember that voters have already said they want to elect their Board chairman. Its up to the task force to study those wishes and make a recommendation - and then its up to local lawmakers to put the two together and see what works best for Columbia County.
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